The previous two winners of the FA Cup have been Manchester United and Arsenal (who also won it the year before as well). This year, the final consists of Arsenal (yet again) competing against domestic double chasing Chelsea. So it seems almost insane to suggest the cup has lost its importance and former magic yet it is an argument that is regularly brought up with some strong evidence behind it.
Liverpool made a shock exit in this year’s competition when a weakened team was embarrassed at Anfield by a meager Wolves team having faced a similar situation scraping by Exeter in an earlier round replay. It was a similar story for many of the bottom half Premier League teams who placed a much larger importance on their top flight survival whilst Mourinho – who, in his defence, may have got through if Herrera had been spared by the referee – started a rotated side in order to further their eventually successful quest in the Europa League.
In fact, the FA Cup seems to have become more of a luxury trophy that, like the League Cup, is nice to add to the trophy room but should it be the only silverware, is not enough. The feeling for Arsenal fans will be that the trophy is not enough to justify an extension for Arsene Wenger much like the situation 12 months ago when Louis Van Gaal’s reign was mercifully ended.
Likewise, lowly positioned Premiership teams have to consider the potential cost of being relegated against trying to make a deep cup run. The chance of winning the trophy is slim. It’s why Alladyce teams would often depart the trophy early. Hull City were relegated the year they lost to Arsenal in the final, and whilst it left a lifelong joyous memory in the minds of Wigan fans, their team hasn’t even sniffed promotion since being relegated the year they tasted glory.
As a result, these upsets are usually down to a weakened lineup being fielded. Sutton United’s fixture was the type of fixture the competition is famous for and it certainly injected some much needed excitement into the tournament. Even in that fixture however, there was disappointment for TV viewers and the Sutton players who were deprived of the dream scenario of facing Arsenal’s stars. There was not a single Arsenal player they’d have truly wanted a shirt from had Alexis not been brought on towards the end.
This is where the magic has started to be lost. Maybe some of the fault lies with Sir Alex Ferguson who often started youth teams against lower league opposition. In fact, he didn’t win an FA Cup after the success against Milwall in 2004 as he desperately sought to win the Champions League again.
Most Arsenal fans would trade this final – whether they win or not – for a fourth place finish in the Premier League. They’d rather end a year trophy-less as the 4th best team in the league than winners of club football’s most illustrious domestic cup.
This is quite simply because the Champions League is the draw. Players move to big clubs because they want to play at the highest level and compete for the biggest prize in club football. They want to feature in those historic games. Similarly, its where clubs make big money from TV revenue and sponsorship deals; you only have to look at the potential losses United would have made from their Adidas kit deal had they repeatedly failed to make the grade to join Europe’s elite.
Circling back to the initial point and it is a self providing solution to the issues of the FA Cup. I think they definitely need to move the Semi-final away from Wembley which massively diminishes the glitz and glamour of the final day but the FA need to eat into the deficit it cost to build Wembley so unfortunately that wont change. However, the issue of increasing the importance of the cup is fairly simple.
The FA are currently allowed 4 spots in the Champions League to award its teams. At the moment it chooses to place all of those spots in the league by allowing the top 4 teams to qualify as we all know. Their two domestic trophies then enable the winners to go into the Europa league if they haven’t already qualified. What they should do, is move the fourth/final spot and award that to the winner of the FA Cup.
*Disclaimer: if the winner of the FA Cup has already qualified for the Champions League, then the spot is awarded to 4th spot as normal because a cup runners up doesn’t deserve it.*
Teams would certainly fancy their chances in the FA Cup rather than a grueling campaign through the Europa League like the path Mourinho took this year. With only 3 spots available between the league’s strong six teams the FA Cup would take on massive importance yet again. Managers of England’s biggest clubs would not be able to risk going out of the cup by playing a weakened side in case the trophy eventually presents their best opportunity of European football.
It would require very little planning or organisation to implement this change yet it would revitalize the competition, pushing it to the forefront of English football once again. Giant killings would be impressive once again whilst an opportunity for even lower league teams to get a shot of elite competition the season after their greatest triumph would also be a monetary reward for the risk invested in prioritizing a cup run.
I struggle to find a reason not to do it and should TV ratings continue to drop for the competition I would strongly urge the FA to consider this strategy. They need only look at the boosts seen as viewers have followed Man Utd (and Liverpool last year) playing on a Thursday night because of the end goal as evidence of this; UEFA specifically awarded a Champions League spot to the winner in order to generate interest and so teams took the competition seriously!